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Caregiver sentenced after leaving special needs patient in hot van while she went shopping

Afia Obour, 26. (Montgomery County Police Department)

A female caregiver's actions were so egregious, during her sentencing hearing Friday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge questioned whether or not the woman is equipped with a "moral compass."

Last August, on one of the summer's hottest days, Afia Obour, 26, of Gaithersburg, left her severely disabled male patient, now identified as Brett Campbell, in a red Dodge Caravan. For two-and-a-half hours, Obour shopped in the air-conditioned Lakeforest Mall while Campbell baked in the scorching hot van.

Around 7:30 p.m., a mall customer saw that Campbell, who suffers from cerebral palsy, partial blindness and seizures, was trapped inside the vehicle. The 26-year-old was red-faced, unresponsive and sweating profusely. And so, the passerby dialed 911.

A Montgomery County fire engine, ambulance, police cars and mall security responded to the parking lot. Upon spotting the bright red minivan, first responders immediately opened all of its doors and back hatch before wheeling Campbell down a rear ramp. Paramedics then transferred the 26-year-old to a stretcher, placed him in an ambulance and took him to the hospital with an internal body temperature of 102. Doctors had to provide Campbell with an IV due to his state of dehydration.

Around 8:09 p.m., nearly three hours after first ditching Campbell, Obour emerged from the Lakeforest Mall. Police took the caregiver into custody. During a recorded sit down interview, Obour told investigators she had only been inside the shopping center for around 30 minutes, which was untrue.

Investigators say at the time of Obour’s arrest, she was working for the Jewish Foundation For Group Homes. The nonprofit agency, which provides support to disabled individuals in Maryland and Virginia, says it parted ways with Obour shortly after her arrest.

At her sentencing hearing, Obour's defense attorney explained how his client was born in the western African nation of Ghana, later moved to Maryland and has since worked to better herself. He added that his client was a student at Montgomery College at the time of her arrest.

"She acted stupidly and thoughtlessly, she just didn't think it through," defense attorney Howard Walsh III stated. "My client is aware that it was completely unacceptable."

Once Walsh III yielded the floor to prosecutors, it didn't take long before they began to tear into his client’s questionable decision making. Prosecutors were also quick to point out that Campbell is non-verbal, immobile, cannot regulate his own body temperature, and needs regular food, water and changing.

"Her one job was to keep Brett Campbell safe," assistant state's attorney Hannah Gleason stated. "Instead, he was left to back in a car that served like an oven that evening."

In open court, prosecutors played video clips obtained from mall surveillance cameras. One clip showed Obour walking through the food court with friends. She had just purchased a warm pretzel and beverage. Obour was later seen on camera entering a beauty salon. When she left the mall, and was ultimately confronted by police, prosecutors say Obour lacked remorse and approached the situation "casually."

"She never once asked, 'Is Brett okay,'" Gleason added. "She never apologized that day. She'll apologize today, but just to save her own skin."

Obour did in fact stand up in court to apologize for her actions. The 26-year-old claimed she did not realize the severity of deserting someone in a hot vehicle, but has since done extensive research and now understands the error of her ways.

"It's not okay to leave someone in a hot car," Obour stated. "I keep telling myself, 'What have I done? What have I done?'"

The life-threatening incident occurred while Campbell's parents were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary on a cruise ship traversing the Mediterranean Sea. The couple awoke at 3 a.m. to a phone call, informing them of what had happened.

“He could have easily died being locked in the van for that long," Campbell's father stated. "Brett can’t do anything. He can't loosen his clothing. He can't roll down the windows. He can't do anything for himself. He's just strapped to a wheelchair.”

Campbell made what his parents describe to be a, "miraculous recovery." In court Friday, Campbell was all smiles. His mother, Lynne Campbell, utilized the moment to highlight her son's many loves, which include: drawing, pottery, dance, music, swimming, attending musical performances, volunteering at a local animal shelter and helping deliver food to local homeless.

"We have always believed that Brett’s life has a purpose and have always advocated for him to be a part of his community," Lynne Campbell stated. "It never occurred to me that he [would be] used to highlight the horrific neglect that can happen to a vulnerable person."

Prior to issuing her sentence, Judge Mary Beth McCormick acknowledged the panic Campbell must have felt during the entire ordeal, all the while being unable to scream, cry or shout for help.

"You were walking around in a tank top and flip flops because you knew it was hot,” Judge McCormick said to Obour with a stern look upon her face. “I can't imagine where your moral compass was -or- if you even have one.”

Judge McCormick sentenced Obour to 18 months in jail. Upon her release, she'll be on probation for five years. During that time, Obour will not be allowed to work or have unsupervised contact with any children, senior citizens or vulnerable adults, such as Campbell.



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